Monday, June 30, 2008

Voices in the conversation

At Classical Conversations, education is built around voices: voices in recitation, voices in conversation, voices echoing in celebration.

My education--and I don't mean just my formal education--has been influenced by many voices. These are the thoughts I bring to conversations between myself and authors.

As a prolific reader, devoted to gleaning tips and tricks to equip Christians to educate their children well, I am easily influenced by Austen, Angelou, and Kipling. They all had a lot to say about families, church, government, and educating children.

As a Christian, I am prejudiced toward the church equipping parents to teach children to hide God’s word in their heart. That implies rigorous academics, as C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and Tyndale said.

Because I am interested in excellence in academics for families, I am required to look at the successes of the only place and period of time where all families read well. So, I read Neil Postman, who described that defining era in early American history as the Age of Typography.

Washington, Jefferson, and Adams all wrote about that period of education. I also read Douglas Wilson with his practical advice on building classical, Christian academies. My collection of nineteenth century American textbooks confirms the content children learned.

I am trying to determine how to help the church recover its mandate to educate, so I read authors who are interested in the same question. Augustine, Aquinas, and Tyndale offer many ideas as do modern writers like Wilhoit, Farley, Burgess, Ward, and Holmes.

And I cannot forget the secularists. Bennett, Hirsh, Adler (even after his conversion), and Damon cry out for a return to the classics and a classical education, and they try to get the state to comply.

I am required to be well read if I am to address the ideological and practical outcomes of equipping tired, overworked parents to consider developing the habit of living for Christ within their family.

What voices have influenced you as an educator and student? Click on "comments" to add your thoughts to the conversation.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Questions about the "who" and "what" of education have very little meaning without an answer to the most important question: Why? What is the purpose of education?

Douglas Wilson, author of Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (Crossway Books, 1991) and founder of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools, concludes in this way:

“The Christian educator’s job is not to require the students to spend all their time gazing at the sun. Rather, we want them to examine everything else in the light the sun provides. It would be utmost folly to try to blacken the sun in order to study the world around us ‘objectively.’ Because all truth comes from God, the universe is coherent. Without God, particulars have no relationship to other particulars. Each subject has no relationship to any other subject. Christian educators must reject this understanding of the universe as a multiverse; the world is more than an infinite array of absurd ‘facts.’ The fragmentation of knowledge must therefore be avoided. History bears a relation to English, and biology a relation to philosophy; they all unite in the queen of the sciences, theology.”

The sad thing is when we try to give education meaning apart from God. The June 25 post on Education Policy Blog talked about the importance of "moral education." According to a study published by William Damon

“...more than a quarter of young people are 'disengaged' and about a fifth have actually found something meaningful to which they wanted to dedicate their lives. The vast numbers in between have not given up on meaningfulness but haven’t found a way to make sense of their lives either.”

As Christian educators, we know that education is hollow apart from God. Our goal is to restore the purpose of education, which can be summarized in a word: catechesis. From the Greek, meaning to resound or echo, to celebrate or initiate, to repeat another’s words and deeds, catechesis is the process by which persons are initiated into the Christian community and its faith, revelation, and vocation.

It is the process by which persons, throughout their lifetimes, are continually converted and nurtured, transformed and formed, by and in its living tradition. Every activity, including education, is used by the church to celebrate and imitate the words or actions of God.

Only in pursuit of catechesis does education truly have purpose.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What should be taught?

We must teach truth to our families. In John 14:6, Jesus says He is the truth. Isaiah 29:14 and 1 Corinthians 1:19 illustrate what will happen if we do not teach Jesus as truth: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Throughout American history, Christians have engaged in the battle to keep God’s word central to education and to the home. Our thoughts come from somewhere. We can think like other men, or we can try to capture our thoughts unto Christ.

The Bible uses three key words to describe educational skills: knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

  • Proverbs 24:3-4 - Through wisdom is an house built; and by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
  • Colossians 1:9 - For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.
Knowledge, or grammar, is where a student begins. We need to teach students techniques that train their brain for maximum use. What an amazing muscle the brain is and how important it is to be exercised so it can truly memorize God’s Word.

But a good education cannot stop at knowledge; it must be established through understanding. An education is not complete if the student cannot wisely use the knowledge they understand.

The entire Bible is a model of good educational techniques. The Old Testament gives us the grammar of His Story. The Gospels give us the understanding of His Story. The Epistles give the church the wise application of His laws and grace.

Genesis 1 tells us we can know God through creation (light, time, space) and language (words). In Genesis 1:1a, “In the beginning,” God had to create space, otherwise the word ‘in’ has no meaning.

  • He had to create time; otherwise the word ‘beginning’ has no meaning.
  • He had to create words that represented abstract ideas; otherwise, telling us He is ‘the Word made flesh’ is meaningless.
  • He had to invent squiggles; otherwise, His transcribers couldn’t preserve His Word for us.
  • He had to make sound so phonetics would have meaning.
  • He had to create light so we could see His words.
  • Even the language of our flesh is encoded into words (DNA). Therefore, we feel a responsibility to learn about creation and words so we can learn more about Him.
We cannot understand an abstract God without understanding words and ideas. He has given us the tools to learn, the motivation to learn, and an organized creation to study.

The point of all education is to know God and to make Him known. As Paul says, that means being all things to all people and being prepared to share the knowledge and belief we have.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Who should provide instruction?

Most of Timothy deals with studying for God’s glory and managing our families well so they are a good example of Christian living. Titus 1 admonishes fathers to care for their families in a manner similar to Timothy. Both letters instruct that we cannot lead in church when we can’t even teach our own children to live for God’s glory.

Matthew 28:19-20 teaches us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Educators everywhere have "new" ideas for improving the school system. Our children will follow their teacher, so they need teachers who can obey Matthew 28 and not the latest educational fad.

1 Corinthians 15:33 reminds families that we can’t fool ourselves by sending our children to pagan schools to evangelize because, “Do not be deceived; bad company corrupts good morals.”

We need to train our children so their Christian character is made strong so they will confidently “let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Hosea 14:9 reminds us that “the ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them.” God trusts us to raise small beings into eternal heirs reigning with His Son. Surely He will not abandon us to complete the task alone.

Unfortunately, the church is quick to give parents excuses. It is a rare church that offers classes on raising children to savor every gift of God and to study the Word and His World as a family.

This is a way of life-long learning that can only be taught by a Christian teacher who spends large quantities of time with a student.

In Matthew 7:26 it says, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” We - we need to ensure that our children’s instruction is built on the Rock.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Theology and Christian education

In 2 Corinthians 10:2-5, Paul says, “I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does […] We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

If we are take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ, how does this translate to our thinking about education?

  • What does the Bible have to say about education?
  • What form does the Bible use to instruct?
  • Who instructs whom?
  • How do they teach, and what do they teach?
  • How do today’s Christians educate Biblically?
  • How do we fulfill the great commission of discipling others?

    There are many unifying Biblical themes, but I’d like to investigate the idea of the Bible as an instructional manual for individuals, families, and communities to build a house for His name.

    From the Garden of Eden to the description of our bodies as temples of the Spirit, the Bible seems to give us a job to do: pass on the idea that He wants to dwell with us, that He died for us, and that He will return for us. His name is Emmanuel – God with us.

    The definition for Christian education answers essential questions about who should provide instruction, what should be taught, and what the goal of education is.

    God has answers, but we are so immersed in our culture that we miss what He is saying to us.
  • Thursday, June 19, 2008

    The accountability load

    In his post today (18 June), Andrew Rotherham of Eduwonk makes an excellent point. He says,

    "...ultimately you have to put the accountability 'load' somewhere. In other words someone has to be accountable for some specific outcomes for kids at some point or you have a system that does, as Congressman George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee is fond of saying, just lead to kids and schools always sort of 'getting there' but never actually arriving."

    American society is determined to treat the public school system as the ideal subject of this accountability. As Christian educators, we need to ask ourselves about the Biblical basis of education, being prepared to find that it is not quite like the world's design.

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Aspiring to a higher standard

    Educators are becoming concerned about the high rates of illiteracy and are seeking solutions. Our high school students are not preparing to be global leaders. Parents now want some new, serious educational options (see the Broader, Bolder Approach movement) in a wider range of prices and models to choose from (see the school voucher and scholarship movements).

    Free education has proven to mean the same as a free lunch, there just “ain’t” no such thing.

    Parents of elite private school students may conclude that I don’t know what I am talking about, as their kids are “just fine, thank-you. Those illiteracy statistics must be for some other area of town.”

    My response is that their standards of literacy are too low. If you disagree with me, please stop and read the following paragraph from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:

    “Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newly arrived emigrants into society, the reciprocal blessings of which would supersede, and render the obligations of law and government unnecessary while they remained perfectly just to each other; but as nothing but Heaven is impregnable to vice, it will unavoidably happen that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigration, which bound them together in a common cause, they will begin to relax in their duty and attachment to each other: and this remissness will point out the necessity of establishing some form of government to supply the defect of moral virtue.”

    This pamphlet was written to be readable by the average twelve year old in Colonial America. An interesting aside is that over half the people who purchased Thomas Paine’s Common Sense were either indentured servants or African slaves.

    Few modern adults, let alone a sixth grader, can read this document well enough to explain its arguments and conclusions to another adult. Parents need to recognize that our current literacy standards are very low. Our ability to understand our heritage and national identity is in decline for the same reasons, according to a recent study by the Bradley Foundation.

    For most of American history, teenagers taught children of all ages in one room school houses (after their parents had taught them to read and earn a living) and raised the most literate culture ever seen on earth. They used very inexpensive and highly effective techniques.

    The 21st century has its own issues, but good learning techniques never change. We should be able to recover our historic literacy rate of over 90% in this country using a piece of chalk and a slate.

    Monday, June 16, 2008

    Falling standards, fallen standards

    According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 15% of adults in America are proficient readers. But from the 1600s through the early 1900s, America had literacy rates of over 90%. No other culture or peoples since the advent of the printing press has raised as literate a culture as America before the 1950s.

    Over my twenty-plus years as an active learner, I have realized that I just don’t know that much and I want to know a lot more. I could have been self-satisfied and impressed with my aerospace engineering degree and made a decent income.

    The world said I was educated. Huh! It lied! I couldn’t comprehend the French in Henry V, the Latin in National Review Magazine, or The Federalist Papers in English. Yet any fourteen year old could have done so 240 years ago in the American colonies.

    I couldn’t tell you a single constellation, the name of an African country, or an Australian province. I couldn’t tell you in what century Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, and Charlemagne lived nor that they were related to one another, nor what countries they ruled. I was highly literate and very uneducated.

    If I am going to ensure my children are effectively educated, I need to look at models that are proven to work instead of repeating the ineffective methods I was taught. The only time in the recorded history of this planet that we have had universal literacy was in the U.S. from 1605 to the 1950s. All other cultures since then have been significantly less literate or purely oral cultures.

    Neil Postman devotes two chapters in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death to analyzing literacy rates from the colonial era through the 1900s. He says,

    “Although literacy rates are notoriously difficult to assess, there is sufficient evidence that between 1640 and 1700, the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was somewhere between 89 and 95 percent…The literacy rate for women is estimated to run as high as 62 percent in the years 1681-1697” (p.31).

    I want to know what the average parent and teacher did to raise the most literate nation ever, and I want to develop our family’s educational model in light of that knowledge.

    Friday, June 13, 2008

    Time to take responsibility

    In his post on June 12, education commentator Sherman Dorn weighed in on current discussions about who is responsible for the state of American education. Dorn says the fundamental questions are: What is the role of education in society? And who is responsible for the success or failure of education?

    The same questions are fresh on the minds of education writers Steve Diamond, Andrew Rotherham, Alexander Russo, and others. Similarly, the voting public is beginning to press for candidate positions on education.

    America seems to recognize that education reform is needed, but they’re not sure how to go about it. Dorn says on 12 June that “both families and schools are responsible for academic achievement.” Liz Willen and Richard Lee Colvin wrote on June 9, 11, and 13 about public pre-K education as a possible solution.

    Moving the starting point of public education earlier and earlier places an increasingly heavy emphasis on the school system, rather than on the parents. As Christian educators, we should recognize that there is something wrong with this philosophy.

    One reason why America’s government schools are no longer educating our children is because everyone is confused about the true nature of education and who bears the ultimate responsibility for entertainment-driven, modern educational techniques.

    According to Peter Drucker in Post-Capitalist Society, institutional schools fail because they are being asked to do two tasks they cannot do: (1) Strengthen weaknesses rather than identify and strengthen gifts, and (2) Socialize rather than teach.

    Family, church, and communities are designed for socializing. Schools should not be expected to replace the family or the church. The ideal role of families in teaching and mentoring is a command and a promise in Scripture.

    Abraham’s faithful instruction to his family is reflected in the elderly Joseph’s ability to say, “God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Genesis 50:24).

    Joseph learned this from His family, not Potiphar’s Preschool or Pharaoh’s Academy. Daniel was influential in Babylon because of the character his parents had instilled.

    Deuteronomy 6:7-9 specifies that parents must constantly, consistently, and contextually bear the responsibility for educating their children. The home was the central place of instruction.

    Proverbs 22:6 instructs parents to “Train up a child in the way they should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The way they should go is described as growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

    We, with the help of the church, are required to do the time-consuming, diligent work of discipling our children, so they can learn to wage war through prayer and confront in strength arguments that try to destroy their ability to take every thought captive to Christ.

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    The situation for Christian leaders

    Christian leaders are sometimes at a loss as to help parents educate their children from home. They see two things occurring that they would like to help:

    1. The integration of these families into the family of families, the church, so all of the congregation can benefit from their commitment to strong family life; and
    2. The lack of well-structured, rigorously academic learning by parents doing the best they know how.
    Many Christian leaders believe parents won’t be involved in their child’s education and prefer to have someone else in charge. They are right, and that is why we need full-time Christian schools.

    Life is changing very quickly as we rocket out of the industrial era into the age of electronics and global technologies. The church has historically been a major support and resource for families disheveled by the loss of jobs in dying industries and by the need to prepare the next generation to love learning and living for Christ.

    Unfortunately, during the twentieth century, Christendom has looked to the state, rather than believers, to train up children in the way they should go. The result has been a loss of Christian culture and the rise of many questions looking for practical, Biblical answers.

    Consider that since the church relinquished education to the state, the quality of American education has declined.

    We know that Satan wouldn’t want our children to be able to hide God’s Word in their heart. Is it any wonder that the state no longer teaches children to memorize in school?

    Evil hopes we are without a defense for what we believe. Is it any wonder that logic and catechism are no longer taught in school?

    The world rejects man as being made in God’s image. So, we let unbelievers neutralize math and science, the languages of creation, as markers of God’s glory.

    Christian leaders and educators grappling with church-based education in the context of effective teaching methods, emerging technology and globalism, and equipping parents need concrete options that are easy to implement.

    The church knows that parents are to pass a Christian heritage to their children, yet we no longer equip parents with the academic tools to do so.

    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    The situation in education

    According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress and a report funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, To Read or Not to Read, in 2005, only 15% of U.S. adults were proficient readers.

    30% of our 17 year olds were proficient readers. The loss with age is due to the fact that most adults never purchase a book, and few actually read a book after formal education is concluded. Therefore, they lose what proficiency they gained in school.

    Many parents have responded to the current malaise in public education by successfully home schooling their children. In the early 1980s, state legislatures began to create educational policies to allow these families to comply with compulsory education laws and college entrance requirements.

    The families who pioneered home-centered learning were very committed to academic excellence and had much early success winning scholarships to selective universities. Now, less-committed families have joined the movement with the potential of watering down the excellent results.

    The rise of home-centered education has shown that there are many parents who are eager to train their children in a Christian worldview through academics, but they need training and accessible tools.Instead of repeating the mantra, “Parents are children’s best and first teachers,” and then telling them to send their children to someone else to educate, Christian leaders should be providing educational options that support the Biblical truth that parents are indeed their children’s most effective teachers.

    For most of American history, teenagers taught children of all ages in one-room school houses, after parents had taught their children to read. They raised the most literate culture ever seen on the face of the earth. They used very inexpensive and highly effective techniques. The twenty-first century has its own issues, but good learning techniques never change. We should be able to recover our historic literacy rate using just a piece of chalk and a slate.

    All of our modern conveniences have cost an enormous amount of money and have resulted in a less than 40% proficient literacy rate among today’s Americans in any demographic group. We are no longer a literate culture, and we need to provide Christian leaders with the tools needed to teach a culture based on concrete images to think about an abstract God.